This month, SmartBlog on Education shines a light on reader trends, content roundups and expert forecasts for 2016. SmartBrief Education’s Path to Workforce content series brings you original content and events on the topic. #Path2W is our vision of college and career readiness, encompassing K-12, adult learners, career changers, non-traditional students and those who forgo a traditional four-year college experience.
College and career readiness is BIG in education right now, and with good reason. While test scores may indicate if a student is learning content, content is not the only thing they need to thrive in a college or career setting. In order to contribute to our global economy, our students need to know more than content or cognitive skills. They need to know non-cognitive skills like time management, perseverance and self-control because these skills are the foundations for success, regardless of a student’s career or postsecondary path.
Too much of a good thing
So how do we teach both cognitive and non-cognitive skills to better prepare students for what’s next? By creating a school setting that gives students some freedom while ensuring that their education is moving forward at an appropriate pace. When I started as principal of Pivot Charter School Tampa in May 2012, our students had too much freedom. Working in cubicles with online instructors, students were self-led and free to study whatever they wanted. Although this may seem ideal, it’s not. Students were falling behind in core subjects because they were focusing on courses that interested them more. When it came time for required graduation testing, the ACTs/SATs and college placement tests, our students were not very prepared. Secondly, the self-led instruction model lacked the concepts of collaboration and time management, both skills we wanted our students to have prior to graduation. With a graduation rate 20% lower than the average rates for schools in the School District of Hillsborough County, our sponsoring district, we knew it was time to reevaluate our school model.
From virtual to blended learning
Just because our students weren’t excelling in the completely self-led instruction model, it doesn’t mean the model was entirely wrong. More districts and charter schools alike are using online course work. Numerous studies show that online courses, when taken in conjunction with instructor-led courses, help student achievement. Also, online coursework gives students the chance to develop 21st century learning skills — another key factor of being college and career-ready. Additionally, online coursework allows students to further study in their areas of interest through a number of electives and upper-level core courses.
When we took online courses and combined them with face-to-face instruction, we created a blended learning model that worked for our students. Teachers can flip the classroom and have small groups work together while the rest of the class completes online activities or works in their online courses using the classroom’s 20 computers. During class time, students have the freedom to advance studies in an area of interest or catch up in core subjects; however they do this for an allotted amount of time.
Another growing trend is the introduction of CTE college and career-track academies. These academies allow students to become more familiar with a particular field and they also help further engage students because their courses are tailored to the academy’s associated career or college major. This marriage between a desired future and their current coursework creates a clear goal for students.
For example, Pivot Charter School Tampa now has career-track academies in the areas of health sciences, technology, criminal justice and fine arts. The school also offers a general College & Career Academy that allows students to participate in dual enrollment at a local community college or AP courses. Depending on the academy, students can earn career certificates such as technology and health science certifications, which can jump start a career right out of high school or be a way for students to make money while attending college.
The Common Core State Standards have definitely made instruction more rigorous for students to the point that our students have noticed. However, raising expectations of students’ coursework isn’t enough for us. We want to raise their expectations for themselves.
As college and career readiness sticks around — and it will — you’ll keep seeing more hands-on counseling for students. Navigating the college application process is daunting, especially for students who are first-generation college students. Because of this, schools, including Pivot Charter School Tampa, are ramping up their college and career guidance.
Some schools may start using curricula specifically designed for this, but at Pivot, we develop personal relationships with each of our students so we can make sure they are on track. We discuss credits, what they might need to do if they are behind, plan class schedules for the upcoming semester, make sure they know their options for college scholarships and prep them for the SATs and ACTs. We also do parent meetings and host college nights to educate parents about what life could look like for students after graduation.
These tweaks may seem small, but they have all been very impactful — and are easily replicated.
Liz Bretz is the principal and curriculum director at Pivot Charter School, Tampa in Riverview, Fla.
If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s email list for more stories about education. We offer newsletters covering educational leadership, special education and more.